I admit it. I’m addicted to caffeine.
I find that I increasingly need caffeine. It’s become an absolute necessity. I drink 3 to 4 cups of coffee from about 8 a.m. till about 4 or 5 p.m. Why? Because I like it. And because it helps me stay awake when I need to be.
First, a little bit about my relationship to caffeine.
I remember how my mother drank coffee all day long. Once I asked her if I could taste it. I figured that it had to be delicious or she wouldn’t drink so much of it. So when she said I could taste it, I took a sip. Yuck! It tasted terrible.
I didn’t try coffee again until my first year of college, when I discovered that it was drinkable if I put enough milk and sugar in it. I decided to try it when late-night studying began to take its toll. I found I’d doze off in class the minute the professor turned off the lights and showed slides on a screen at the front of the classroom. But I discovered that if I had some caffeine in my breakfast coffee, I could stay awake.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that consuming caffeine is a necessity. Especially before sitting in a theater, when (as in college classrooms) the lights are dimmed and I need to stay conscious to enjoy a film, a play, a concert, a ballet performance, or an opera. Although the pandemic has cramped my style, suspending my theater-going, for example, I’ve continued to rely on caffeine while I read or watch TV at home.
Now let’s look at some of the science behind caffeine. I won’t bore you with the wonkiest stuff, but you probably want to know something about it.
I found this info in the March 2021 issue of Nutrition Action, a monthly newsletter published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), my go-to source for honest reporting on healthy food choices and the like. Here’s a summary of the most useful info:
How does caffeine work? It blocks adenosine receptors in the brain. Huh? What’s adenosine?
Adenosine is a natural sedative. When it builds up, you feel drowsy. But when caffeine blocks it, you don’t.
But watch out: You can build up a tolerance to caffeine. What happens is this: The more caffeine you consume, the more adenosine receptors your brain makes. So you need even more caffeine to block those extra receptors and keep you alert.
But how much is too much? The FDA says that most adults can safely consume up to 400 milligrams a day. This is roughly the amount in two large cups of coffee at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. But the amount of caffeine in your home-brewed coffee can vary. And caffeine’s impact on people varies.
So you need to judge the impact it has on you. If you’re having trouble sleeping, or too much coffee makes you feel jittery, you probably need to cut back on how much you imbibe, and pay attention to when you’re imbibing.
You can try to break up with coffee, as famed author Michael Pollan has. He reports “sleeping like a teenager” and waking “feeling actually refreshed.” But that experience may not work for everyone.
One study asked 66 young caffeine users–who were having trouble sleeping–to go “cold turkey.” But during the a week with no caffeine, they spent no more time asleep and took no less time to fall asleep than before.
Still, it’s probably wise to avoid caffeine right before bed. Studies show that people generally take longer to fall asleep and get less deep sleep when they have caffeine right before bedtime.
Coffee consumption has shown some real benefits. A lower risk of type 2 diabetes, for one thing. Better exercise-performance for another. (Although few studies have looked at the exercise-boosting effect in older adults, one study of 19 Brits aged 61 to 79 showed that they performed better in a battery of physical tests after they consumed caffeine.) Finally, studies have shown that people who consume more caffeine have a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease.
I get my caffeine in a variety of sources, including coffee, tea, and cola drinks. I also happily consume coffee candy (my favorite is Caffe Rio, available at Trader Joe’s) and coffee ice cream. I also heartily recommend the cappuccino gelato at my local gelato shop. But let’s face it: a cup of coffee packs the most punch.
The recent advent of cold brew coffee allows coffee-drinkers to get their caffeine in a less acidic form. According to one source, cold brew is over 67 percent less acidic than hot brewed coffee because the coffee grounds aren’t exposed to high temperatures. Result: cold brew appeals to some of us because it’s sweeter, smoother, and less bitter. (But don’t confuse it with iced coffee, which has the same acidity as regular hot coffee. The ice can dilute it, however.) I’ve tried cold brew and like it. I keep a bottle of it in my fridge and frequently drink some. But it’s much pricier than my home brew, at least for now.
New sources have popped up. One may be bottled water. In the bargain bin at a local supermarket, I once came across a bottle of Sparking Avitae, whose label states that it’s caffeine plus water and natural fruit flavors. It claims to have “about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee,” thereby giving you “instant go with added fizz.” According to the manufacturer, it includes “natural caffeine derived from green coffee beans.” I’m not sure this product is still available. Possibly something like it is. My original purchase is stashed in my fridge, but I’ve never tried it.
Even newer: I recently spied an ad for a cosmetic product called “Eyes Open Caffeine and Peptide Eye Cream.” Yes, eye cream. This one claims to be “supercharged with caffeine,” adding that it can “reduce the appearance of puffiness and dark circles.” Does it work? Who knows? I’d guess that it probably works just about as well as any other eye cream. Dermatologists generally tell their patients not to expect very much from any of them, no matter their price or their claims.
To sum up, I confess that I ally with Abbie Hoffman, the “Chicago 7” trial defendant. When the prosecutor asked him whether he was addicted to any drug, Abbie said “Yes.” Which one? “Caffeine.” [Please see Post #9 in my blog series, “Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman,” published on 4/20/21, where I noted this amusing bit of testimony.]
My favorite coffee mug says it all: Its vintage photo features a stylish woman in glamorous riding gear, holding the reins of her horse, saying “You can lead a horse to water…but I could use a triple expresso.”
And let’s not forget my sticky-note pad featuring a stylishly-coiffed woman, circa 1928, drinking what’s clearly a cup of coffee. She boldly announces: “Given enough coffee, I could rule the world.”
Well, maybe coffee-drinkers like me should actually try to rule the world. We might do a better job than most of those who’ve been in charge.
Okay. I’m addicted. And my path ahead is clear.
I’ll continue to reap the benefits of caffeine while at the same time I steer away from any potentially harmful impact.
Maybe you’d like to join me on this path?